Sneakers have always been associated with hip hop music thanks to rap artists from all eras choosing to wear these casual shoes as part of their standard dress. One of the primary inspirations for hip hop fashion and hip hop shoes has been urban youth and street culture, a culture often influenced by athletics. Consequently, sportswear and athletic shoes have always been a part of the hip hop image and lifestyle.
In the 1980s, Run-DMC helped to establish the Adidas Superstar® as the premiere hip hop shoe. The pioneering rap group was often spotted in their trademark style of fedoras, big glasses, and all-black outfits, set off by their white Adidas® hip hop shoes. The classic basketball shoes were noted for the low-top style ending before the ankles and the rubberized shell toe, which made the shoe more durable. Run-DMC typically wore their Adidas® without laces, while other groups of the era often choose to pair their Adidas® with oversized shoestrings. Run-DMC were such fans of the shoes that they even released a tribute song discussing their love for the sneakers tilted My Adidas in 1986; their popularity and the success of the song would lead to an endorsement deal with the shoe company, the first of many such profitable relationships between shoe brands and popular rappers.
Even while Adidas® was enjoying success, a new contender was gaining steam as the eventual favorite hip hop sneaker. In 1985, Michael Jordan, a rookie for the Chicago Bulls, endorsed a line of Nike® shoes called Air Jordan®. The line would be extremely popular from the beginning and would be snatched up by the illustrious player’s fans, many of whom included top hip hop artists. Even before the release of this iconic hip hop shoe, however, Nike® was already affecting hip hop culture thanks to the Nike Air Force 1®. The shoes, noted for their full-length air sole, were originally released in 1982 and were worn by emerging hip hop artists taking the look directly from the streets of Brooklyn.
The 1990s are considered one of the most versatile periods in rap music. As hip hop artists experimented with different sounds and used the music to express themselves, hip hop artists emerging from different regions of the United States brought their own unique fashion and hip hop shoes to the public’s attention. On the East Coast, for instance, Timberland® boots, a brand of waterproof hiking boots, would become a preferred look for hip hop artists. Meanwhile, West Coast rappers choose to embrace the Chuck Taylor®, high-top canvas sneakers from Converse®. Often known as the Chuck Taylor All-Stars®, the shoes were originally released in 1917 and were one of the first basketball shoes created.
As of 2011, sneakers remain the primary shoe worn in hip hop fashion. Brands identified as part of the hip hop style, however, have expanded their shoe offerings to include all types of shoes, such as sandals and flip flops. Styles and colors catering to women and children have also become popular. Cashing in on the large profits associated with hip hop fashion, hip hop artists have increasingly been creating hip hop shoes for their own clothing labels or in partnership with established shoe brands. The rise in shoe customization has also allowed the individual to design his own unique look to express his individuality.